Sunday, December 30, 2012

Charles Dougherty's Interesting Characters

Today Charles Dougherty, author of the Bluewater Thrillers, talks about the interesting people who inhabit his fictional bluewater world.
At Amazon

Your characters seem very real and the sort of people you might meet in the islands. Do you know or have you met the characters in your books?
The characters in my fiction books are composites.  Their personalities and physical traits are always borrowed from real-life people, but none of them are real people.  I’ve always been a people-watcher, and when I see or hear something interesting, I often imagine having a character say, do, or look like whatever caught my attention.  It’s fun to mix and match behavior and appearance.  The character Sharktooth, for example takes his physical appearance from a gentle giant that I know.  His Rastafarian beliefs and lack of adherence to them come from another friend who is a commercial fisherman.  The controlled violence in his personality is drawn from yet another acquaintance, a former bodyguard for a deposed dictator down here.  His bald head above dreadlocks and his wry sense of humor belong to another water-taxi driver down island.
Who would you like to play your main characters in a movie?
I never know how to answer that question, because I’m completely out of touch with movies.  When we’re visiting back in the states, we sometimes watch DVDs, but I have no idea who the actors are.  I could pick some of the people that I’ve encountered in real-life, but their names wouldn’t’ mean anything.
Would you like to live next door/next berth to your characters? Why or why not?
That could be fun.  Most of them would make pretty good neighbors, if you overlook their quirks.  The villains, of course, are another matter.
At Amazon
Which of your characters would you least like to meet in a dark alley?
Mike Reilly, from Bluewater Killer.  He’s the scariest one to me, because in some ways he’s so normal, yet he’s completely unpredictable.  He’s provoked to violence by things that most people never even consider.  While some of the other characters may be more consistently dangerous, they’re easier to understand.
How do you determine your character’s flaws?
I try to develop characters that have the same basic elements of personality that all of us have.  I think that we have character flaws that are a result of adapting our behavior to accommodate to our experience.  That leads to certain traits being emphasized at the expense of others.  What may be a character flaw in one situation may have been a strength in a former encounter.  In the case of a villain, I often don’t spend much time delving into the causes of character flaws; the villian’s job is just to be bad, unless the villian is the focus of the story.  Significant characters need to have flaws consistent with their personalities and backgrounds, and I think the flaws should be exaggerations of traits that exist in all of us.
Would your main character make a good roommate? Why or why not?
I think Dani Berger would make a fine roommate for the right person.  She’s loyal, hard-working, and intense, but she does have a violent temper and the skills to make her dangerous when she’s provoked.  She and Liz Chirac seem to get along fine; Liz’s cool head balances Dani’s temper.
Which characteristic do you consider most important in your main character?  She’s believable, at least to most people.
Thanks for hosting me, and have a great 2013.
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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Interviewing Charles Dougherty, The Story, Part 2 of 3

My interview with Charles Dougherty, author of the Bluewater Thrillers, part 2.
At Amazon

What is the worst thing you’ve experienced on your boat?
We were three days out of Miami and were finishing a rough trip north up the Gulf  Stream when we entered Beaufort Inlet in North Carolina.  It was 3 a.m., and we were tired.  Offshore passages are a 24-hour per day commitment; there are no rest areas at sea.  My wife and I alternate 4 hour watches, so we get some sleep, but it takes us longer than 3 days to get into the rhythm.  We had been under sail for the entire time until we left the ocean, at which point we dropped the sails and started our auxiliary engine to make our way to an anchorage a few miles north of Beaufort on the Waterway.  Just inside the inlet, our engine died.  That’s not unusual after an extended period in rough weather; all sorts of stuff gets churned up from the bottom of the fuel tank, and the filters clog when you start the engine.
We were still in the ship channel, and Beaufort is a busy place, with lots of commercial traffic even at 3 a.m.  We were in a hurry to get out of the channel to clean the fuel filters, so my wife took the helm and steered us outside the danger area while the boat was still coasting.  I went forward and dropped the anchor, not realizing how fast we were moving, and I got both hands caught in the anchor chain, pinching my fingers between the chain and the roller as 30,000 pounds of boat pulled the chain over them relentlessly.  My first thought was that when we reached the end of the chain and it stopped, it would cut my fingers off.  Before that could happen, I gritted my teeth and fell backwards, pulling my hands free.  My wife still says that’s the only time she’s heard me scream.  I engaged the chain clutch and got the anchor set, thinking that my days of playing classical guitar were finished.
I had several broken fingers, and lost a good deal of flesh.  It took a long time to recover, but I still play classical guitar.
Did/will you use it in a book?
I had not considered it before you asked; maybe I will someday.  Mostly I think of it as a dumb mistake, and I’m thankful that I eventually recovered the full use of my hands.
Which comes first, characters or plot?
I always have a few characters in mind when I start writing a book.  To me, the plot is secondary; it’s a vehicle to show off the characters.
At Amazon
Plotter, pantser, or in between?
I guess I’m in between.  I usually have a loose idea of plot when I start writing, but as the characters develop, they drive the plot.  I think it’s important to keep the characters’ behavior consistent with their personalities as they react to one another and their environment, so the plot has to be flexible.
Which part of the story is usually the most difficult to write?
For me, the transition from exposition to development is always the hardest part.  I usually struggle for days before I figure out that I’m stuck there, and it’s time to get on with the story.  Once I get past that point, everything else falls into place.
Can you quote a favorite line from one of your books?
“I’m hung over and in jail, somewhere in the Caribbean,” he said aloud. “It’s Sunday.  I need water and food.”   From Bluewater Killer.
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Interview with Charles Dougherty, Part 1 of 3

Where to find the book
My guest this week is Charles Dougherty, author and sailor. I found him an interesting interview. It turned out to be longer than expected, so I've divided it into three parts, to be posted Dec 28, Dec 30, and Jan 1. This one is mostly about life on his boat, but the next two are about his writing. Check back!


How did you decide to live on your boat?

Living on a boat was a dream from my childhood. I grew up around the water and some of my earliest memories are of watching boats come and go. I had been away from boats for several years when my wife and I got married. She had no exposure to boats before she met me, although she liked the outdoors. A few years after we were married, we bought a 30 foot sailboat on Lake Michigan, and she quickly got hooked on sailing. Once she began to talk about living aboard and cruising, my old dream became a possibility. One cold November weekend on the Chesapeake in 1988, she said, “You know, if we’re going to take off and do this full-time someday, maybe we should go ahead and get the boat for it. That’ll give us time to get it fixed up the way we want it and learn its quirks.” Two weeks later, we owned the boat that we still call home. It was our weekend and vacation getaway for 12 years before we were finally ready to cut our ties to the shore.

Do you miss having space to spread out?

No. That’s a reasonable question, but we find living in a small, well-organized space to be pleasant; everything we need and care about is close at hand. Since we sail in warm, pleasant places, we sit out on deck and enjoy the ever-changing scenery, so there’s no sense of being confined. We spent an extended period ashore this summer with my in-laws, who have a very large house with beautiful gardens outside. We felt more closed in there than aboard our boat, and as pretty as it was, the scenery didn’t change. We found ourselves yearning to return to the boat and the islands.

Do you have access to the Internet or do you have to go ashore?

When we’re actually at sea, we don’t have Internet access. We can send email via a ham radio system, but it’s very slow. We use it primarily for obtaining offshore weather forecasts and letting family know we’re all right. Most of the time when we’re in port, it’s possible to get Wifi access on the boat using a long-range Wifi adapter. In some places like St. Martin, where we are now, I’m able to get mobile high speed access on the boat for a reasonable price.

Is there an author you particularly admire or who has influenced/inspired you?

I’ve always been a voracious reader. I usually read a book a day, so that’s a tough question for me to answer. If I look back to my youth, I was a great fan of William Faulkner. Ernest Hemingway and T.E. Lawrence were also favorites of mine back then, and I’m sure there are influences from many others that have made their way into my writing.


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Friday, December 21, 2012


Mistletoe display
Cold Comfort takes place in Williamsburg, VA, during December. Here's a short excerpt from Chapter 2. This is where Riley, the reluctant investigator, first goes to Claire Spencer's Christmas shop, Mistletoe, and sees Claire. 
If she's picket fences, he's barbed wire. Opposites do attract.

Through the window, he saw hundreds of tiny white lights peeking through the greenery festooned from the ceiling. The warm glow of a village peopled with moving figures showed between the branches of a fir tree, and a little skater twirled on a glass lake. He could see why the kids were fascinated. The scene came straight from a fairy tale. Magic. Geez. Just his kind of case. He'd go in, take a quick look, and get out. For Ray, he'd check out the situation, but he wasn't committing to anything.
Sugar and spice and everything nice. The old nursery rhyme came back to him as he entered the shop and inhaled the tang of fresh evergreens mingled with...cinnamon? It could have been worseat least some of the trees were real. He sniffed again. Apple cider? Drawn by the scent, he followed his nose.
The aisles meandered through the store like paths in a forest—nothing square or aligned. He recognized Mary, a tall, elegant woman in a loose, African-patterned dress, from several years ago. She stood chatting with a young couple beside an electric train display. He stayed out of her line of sight, hiding behind a tree decorated with ribbons and dead flowers. "Dried" was probably the politically correct description he decided, stifling a sneeze.
Riley worked his way toward the rear of the shop until, over the lilting strains of "Greensleeves," he heard a woman say, "You can have a cup of cider if you sit quietly and listen to the story."
He recognized Claire's voice from the phone. Peering around a six-foot-tall gingerbread house, he saw several children, all clutching small paper cups, sitting on a rug in front of a cozy fake fireplace. When she pressed a button on an old tape player, starting "The Night before Christmas," the children sat spellbound.
Through the branches of a tree, he studied her. Wavy, nut-brown hair in a loose knot on top of her head, almost a Gibson girl style, emphasized her gentle, somewhat old-fashioned look. The knot listed to the left and a few strands hung loose. Must be a bad day—that he could understand. The woman fit the voice. If this represented Claire Spencer's life, maybe she'd magnified a common robbery into an attack by a stalker to add a little excitement. She could have done the doll too, just to jack up the stakes.
He didn't expect to like her, and he was damn sure she wouldn't like him.
Then one kid pushed another, and a shoving match began. The ladylike Miss Spencer surprised him with the no-nonsense tone of a nun. "Boys! Sit down and behave. You know the rules." She turned toward Riley and smiled. "Two strikes and you're out."
Busted. He nodded and turned away, pretending to examine the contents of a basket.
"May I help you find something?" She appeared at his elbow, wearing a solemn expression.
"Uh, yes. I'm trying to find something for my nephew." He looked down at her. Clear ivory skin with a hint of pink in her cheeks, eyes like a bright October sky. Although she wasn't classically beautiful, her coloring would have made Botticelli weep. If he were a portrait painter....
"Interesting choice," she said.
In the subdued lighting he couldn't be sure, but he thought those cerulean eyes held a twinkle. He glanced down to see his "choice," a basket of pearly pink ornaments. Super sleuth strikes again. "I'll take three of thesefor his mother. She likes pink."
After paying for the useless stuff, he made a hasty retreat. Safely outside in the cold, he checked his watch. Five twenty. Time enough for coffee after a quick tour to check the rear access to Mistletoe. Resigned, he reminded himself he owed Ray. He would do it for Ray.
Want to read more? Follow the link to Amazon.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Magdalen Braden: Love in Reality

Amazon Kindle
 Magdalen Braden, author of the delightful romance Love in Reality, is my guest this week.
I keep wondering how things work. That’s curiosity, which—if it doesn’t kill you—is not a bad thing. Trouble is, my curiosity was never a very marketable skill…until I started writing.
My first contemporary romance, Love in Reality, is out this week. It’s the story of a law student, Libby, who ends up on a fictional reality TV show, The Fishbowl, pretending to be her identical twin, who’s a bartender. What really triggered it was my curiosity about shows like Big Brother, where contestants are locked in a house with lots of cameras and microphones. Each contestant has to talk to a camera about how the game’s going. Those “journal entries” end up on each episode of the show.
Only you know they’re not spontaneous, right? Someone has to ask the right questions to get the player to talk about the aspects of the game the executive producer most cares about. Turns out, those people—the one’s asking the questions—are producers.
So I had in my mind a rather intimate relationship between the producer—a man—and the contestant, who’s female. What if their conversations—after the camera was turned off—got personal? What if the producer was attracted to the contestant? What if they fell in love?
Here’s the thing about writing: It’s all problem solving. Every idea I have generates scads of problems I then have to solve. How did a law student end up on a show that would never cast a law student? Why’s she pretending to be her twin sister? Why is the producer attracted to her so much that he’s willing to break the rules to spend time with her?
And, because of my background as a lawyer, I asked really arcane questions no one else would even think of, like whether the heroine has committed “fraud in the inducement”? (Short answer: no.)
Well, it took a few incarnations before I was confident I had a workable plot. (Mind you, by that time I’d written the entire book two-and-a-half times. But that’s a whole different blog post!)
Here, then, are the answers to the questions: Libby (our law student heroine) is working as her twin, Lissa, at the South Philadelphia bar because of a family friend’s cancer. The producer, Rand, wants “Lissa-the-bartender” on the show because he hates his boss, Marcy, who’d never cast anyone that confident. He doesn’t realize it’s really Libby he wants to go on the show. And she would never have accepted if her summer law job hadn’t fallen through.
Oh, and she thinks he’s cute. Which is okay, because he’s really attracted to her too. But she’s not being honest to him, and he’s not being honest with himself, and reality TV is a really screwy environment in which to fall in love, so…let’s just say, they have a lot of work to do before their happy-ever-after.
And all of that started with the image of a man asking a woman questions.
Magdalen is a 2012 Golden Heart® Finalist
You can find out more about her at her website: http://MagdalenBraden.comJoin Magdalen on Facebook
The Love in Reality page at Harmony Road Press: 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Those Flying Body Parts

Have you ever heard the term “flying body parts”? Flying body parts occur when the parts act independently of the person.
Most of us are guilty of occasionally writing them into our work. They do slip in, especially with eyes. Her eyes swept the room. We all know what that means, but such statements conjure up bizarre pictures and can take the reader right out of the story. Do you see the eyes floating around, controlling the broom? Magic of an unintended kind!
If the person (as opposed to the body part) performs the action, the logic doesn’t jar the reader so much. If body parts, usually hands, feet, or eyes, perform the action, they can create a weird image of the part acting independently of the person. They’re often called flying body parts. Examples:
Her eyes flew upward to the crows. Better, She glanced upward at the crows.
His foot kicked the ball. Better He kicked the ball.
Her hand reached for his. Better She reached for his hand.
Even though readers know what the sentence means, these images can yank them out of the story. Read those body part lines carefully to see if they convey the correct image.
Sometimes, even when the person performs the action, the verb doesn’t work. She shot her eyes at him. It makes the reader wonder how, with a sling shot? She tossed her hand in the air, dismissing him. She can toss her hair but not her hand, or she could wave her hand.
Have you ever been guilty? Have any good examples to share?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Character Motivation and Conflict

In a novel, each of the main characters, bad and good, must have strong motivation. This is what will drive the person to act and react to the events in the plot. The character must want something badly and must have a valid reason for wanting it. This may be reinforced or complicated by secondary motivations.
For example, Grace wants to be head of her company. Okay, but so do a lot of people. What makes Grace’s ambition stand out? How far would she go to achieve it? Why? Maybe her father was repeatedly passed over for promotion and became bitter, eventually killing himself, and her mother had to scrub floors to feed Grace and her brother.
The reason doesn’t have to be melodramatic, but it does have to be strong. To develop this story further, what if her father thought he was rejected unfairly, perhaps because he was handicapped or something that might have caused prejudice?
Grace would share his beliefs, but perhaps as the story unfolds, she finds he was merely incompetent. How would that affect her? Would she have difficulty believing it? Would it change her views? Would she begin to look more closely at herself? These are the kinds of things that make stories interesting and draw readers in—conflict and motivation.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

FIRST FRIDAY! Alexander, Graff, Milchman!

This is the exercise where I give three great authors the same photo, and each writes whatever comes to them in 150 words or less. Their different views are terrific!
Marla pushed back the guilt at draping over a stranger's crypt and pretending to be overcome with grief. Luring her stalker into the cemetery provided the privacy needed for a showdown. Footsteps rustled the dry leaves, indicating his nearness. Each crackle sent icy shards of fear up and down her spine. She tightened her grip on the carnation, wishing she held a weapon instead of the limp flower. The desire to whirl and confront him was almost overwhelming. But she waited until she sensed him standing behind her.
Focusing on the sound of his heavy breathing and the rapid thump of her heart, she gathered all her strength and prepared to strike out. She straightened, whirled, and delivered a crippling blow to his Adam's apple.
Staggering backward, the old caretaker's gnarled fingers clutched his throat. Marla's jaw dropped. Oh. My. God. What had she done?

It was supposed to be a bit of a thrill, meeting up after dark in Kensal Green cemetery, having sex on top of a crypt. Creepy to some, but it fit my wild side and would show Kev I was up for anything.
Kev wanted to do it on Harold Pinter, but I insisted on Wilkie Collins, the king of gothic novels. That had a kind of resonance to it. Instead of The Woman in White I was always The Goth in Black.
He surprised me with the red carnation, I’ll give him that. “To match the red streaks in your hair,” he said, caressing my face with one hand. I turned into it and licked his palm as it passed over my mouth.
He groaned and threw me up on the hard cement, then roughly yanked up my skirt. “Not like this,” I whispered, as the coldness seeped into my spine.

The heroine of my forthcoming debut novel is coping with grief. The story starts with Nora waking to find her policeman husband dead. So when I look at this photo, I see Nora. My book is set during an Adirondack winter, but there is grass in this picture. The ground is not green in the Adirondacks until May, so it must be five months after my story opens, and spring has come to the fictional town of Wedeskyull. Nora is at Brendan’s gravesite. In some ways she’s moved on, but is temporarily overcome by all she has lost. In other ways though, she is shorn. Literally: the woman in this photo has short hair, while Nora’s long locks present a revelation in the mystery. Maybe Nora cuts her hair after laying rest to the secrets and danger that took Brendan’s life. Until I saw this photo, I didn’t know that. 

Amazon Print

A student of creative writing in her youth, Jerrie set aside her passion when life presented her with a John Wayne husband, and two wonderful children.
But the characters went with her, insisting she share their dark, sexy stories with others.  She writes alpha males and kick-ass women who weave their way through death and fear to emerge stronger because of, and on occasion in spite of, their love for each other.  If they’re strong enough, they live happily ever after.
Jerrie lives in Texas, loves sunshine, children’s laughter, sugar (human and granulated), and researching for her heroes and heroines. 

Bridlepath Press
Marni Graff is the author of The Nora Tierney Mysteries, set in the UK. The Blue Virgin (Oxford) introduces the American children’s book writer, preparing to move from Oxford to the Lake District, when Nora swings into action to clear her best friend, Val Rogan, of murdering her partner. In The Green Remains (Cumbria) Nora’s morning walk takes an unexpected turn when she stumbles over the body of the heir to Clarendon Hall. She finds herself snooping again when her illustrator, Simon Ramsey, is implicated as a murder suspect. Available:, and Kindle.

Amazon Kindle and Print
Jenny Milchman is a suspense novelist from New Jersey whose short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Adirondack Mysteries II, and in an e-published volume called Lunch Reads. Her first novel, Cover of Snow, will be released by Ballantine in January.

Join in! Leave your description in a comment--just remember, 150 words or less. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Interview with Stacy Juba

How to get this Free book
Today I'm interviewing Stacy Juba, author of several mysteries and a YA. 


When and how often do you write?
It varies by the month.  During the summer and fall, I was focused on publishing a couple of new books and doing a marketing campaign for them, so I only worked on my novel-in-progress once or twice a week. Now the emphasis is going to be on finishing that novel and I'll be writing every day for an hour or two in the morning. 

What inspired you to begin writing?
I started writing in elementary school. I loved to read, and I discovered some college textbooks about writing in a used bookstore when I was about ten. I started doing some of the writing exercises in the books and was hooked.


Which comes first, characters or plot?
Plot. I generally get an idea for a book and then I start brainstorming about what kind of character would be the best fit for the story.

Plotter, pantser, or in between?
I'm a plotter and do thorough outlines, sometimes up to 15 typed pages. My outline does evolve, so it's not written in stone, but I really like knowing what scenes I'm going to be writing the next day and what is coming up. 
What’s the perfect atmosphere for your writing?
At Amazon
My ideal writing atmosphere is in my home office when everyone is out of the house and I know I'll have a few hours of uninterrupted writing time.

Which part of the story is usually the most difficult to write?
The middle. It's easy to get started, and usually I have a clear end in mind, but the middle goes on and on. It's important to keep the story developing and to make sure the pacing doesn't drag.

Sex or no sex?
Yes, but I'll cut away so there is nothing explicit.

Bad language?
I'll include PG 13 language.  I don't use any language worse than that in the mystery, romantic suspense and romantic comedy genres that I've been focusing on, as it risks turning off some readers.

Describe the sort of people you like to write about.
I like to write about young women who are getting on the right life path and who are on a journey of self discovery.

Titles—hard or easy? Where did you get this one/most current/favorite?
They're usually easy. For example, the title of my mystery/romantic suspense novel Twenty-Five Years Ago Today stems from my character's job compiling 25 years ago today news tidbits from the microfilm and her discovery of a 25-year-old murder. 


Would you like to live next door to your characters? Why or why not?
I would like to live on the same street as my protagonists as they are all likeable characters and I have things in common with them.  I share a journalism background with Kris from Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, but she might be a little hard to get to know as she's a night owl, I'm a morning person, and we're both quiet. I'd love to take an exercise class with Cassidy, the personal trainer from Sink or Swim, though Cassidy can be rather mouthy so we might drive each other crazy.   

Which characteristic do you consider most important in your main character?
Characters can't be perfect. They need to be flawed, just as real people are, as that makes them relatable.

Stacy Juba has written about reality TV contestants targeted by a killer, an obit writer investigating a cold case, teen psychics who control minds, twin high school hockey stars battling on the ice, and teddy bears learning to raise the U.S. flag: she pursues whatever story ideas won’t leave her alone. Stacy’s titles include the adult mystery novels Sink or Swim and Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, the children’s picture books The Flag Keeper and the Teddy Bear Town Children’s E-Book Bundle (Three Complete Picture Books), and the young adult novels Face-Off and Dark Before Dawn. She is also the editor of the essay anthology 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror: 52 Authors Look Back. She is a former journalist with more than a dozen writing awards to her credit.